RLL 41: Lessons from the Beginning of School

Real Life Leading Blog Post #41

Lessons from the Beginning of School

This past Thursday marked the first day of my thirteenth year as a high school teacher, and in those thirteen years, many changes have taken place, both in education and in the rest of life: kids have changed, technology has advanced, my family has changed, etc. Reflecting on these things, I was reminded of two quick thoughts that I wanted to share with you all regarding leadership both in the classroom and outside of it.


First, It is absolutely vital to set expectations early. In my classroom, the first assignment is for the students to write an essay telling me what they hope to get out of the class and telling me a little bit about themselves. We then spend the next forty-five minutes of class going over the rules and procedures (four rules, twenty procedures), detailing what I expect from them: how to enter, how to head papers, how to conduct themselves during class, what they can expect from me, how to exit the room, and everything in between.

Because we go over these expectations early, the students know from the very first day what class will look like and what will be required of them. There is no guess-work about how to do things or how to act. This provides both a structure for the class and stability for the students and for me. If at all possible, in your leadership position, let your team know as soon as possible what the goals and expectations are, so that everyone is on the same page.

Second, I find it is important to believe the best in people while also knowing they will make mistakes. The current group of freshman at my school have long had a negative reputation within the school: loud, obnoxious, disrespectful, lazy, etc. I heard this from multiple teachers, and I'm sure there is some basis for these statements (teachers don't generally lie to each other). However, after reading Bob Burg's book 'The Go-Giver,' and realizing that my job is to help and serve, I realized also that if I go into the year expecting these kids to be awful, then I will see everything they do through that lens. Instead, I also remembered my C.S. Lewis (this is a paraphrase) from 'Mere Christianity': however bad something could be, it also has the potential to be the same amount great.

So I started this year by expecting these kids to be phenomenal. And so far, they have not let me down: they are engaged, they are interested, they show up on time and participate in class, and I'm excited to be teaching a class with such huge potential. Believing the best in them is helping me see the best in them, rather than the reverse. I have found this to be true in other areas as well. Will they be perfect the entire year? Of course not. But I am excited to see just how high their ceiling is, knowing that we've started off in a positive direction. 

I hope these two tips help you out this week, and if so, I'd love to hear about it!

Action Step: Within your team, communicate your expectations, and believe the best in people!

RLL 35--Inverted Leadership (Part 4 of 4)

RLL 35--Inverted Leadership (part 4 of 4)

Education vs. Experience, Hard Truths of Leading and Life, and Reason to Hope

Good morning, and welcome to the last part of our Inverted Leadership book preview blog series! Today's update contains excerpts from chapters 7-9.


Chapter 7: What Are You Doing Here? Education vs. Experience

In leadership, we often face a false dichotomy in terms of importance: that is, we are either told that education helps us learn or that experience is the best teacher. Looking to the example of Christ, I believe His life shows that both are necessary for proper instruction. Jesus both instructed the crowds and the apostles using stories and parables, and He also lived and traveled with the apostles for years, showing them how His teachings applied in various situations. If we are to be Godly leaders, we must understand that both education and experience are necessary parts of our growth.

Experience is a key component of leadership, and it illustrates something that I want to really emphasize for leaders: every role you are in is either a leadership role, or it is preparing you (giving you experience to help you) for a future leadership role.

We need to balance our practical knowledge (experience) with our theoretical knowledge (education), and as always we need to remember that, when in doubt we should err on the side of service and humility, just as Christ said He came not to be served but to serve.

Chapter 8: Your Biggest Mistakes Are Still to Come: Hard Truths of Leading and Life

Thanks for reading, and I hope you've been encouraged today!

Thanks for reading, and I hope you've been encouraged today!

It would be wonderful to be able to say that after reading this book you’ll never make a mistake or have any trouble in your leadership roles. It would also really be a boost to my pride and ego! And it would be entirely false. The truth is that we will all mess up again tomorrow, and we’ve probably already messed up today. That is where, especially as leaders, we must embrace the wonderful power of forgiveness found in the Gospel while also not falling prey to what Bonhoeffer referred to as “cheap grace.” We are forgiven, certainly, but let us not presume upon Christ’s sacrifice and use it as an excuse to sin. We’ll sin plenty without having to try!

Here we see an extremely important leadership principle: in this life, we will never attain perfection, yet as leaders we have a responsibility to strive for it at all times. Knowing we cannot be perfect is no excuse for failing to attempt perfection anyway. As leaders we cannot afford to fall prey to a fatalism or an acceptance that anything less than perfect is good enough. As C.S. Lewis writes, when talking about attempting to exercise virtue, “The only fatal thing is to sit down content with anything less than perfection.”

Chapter 9: "Make Each Day Your Masterpiece" (Coach John Wooden): Reason to Hope

As Christians we have the joy of knowing that life is a blessing and a gift from God. We have the joy of the Gospel and the knowledge that, no matter how much we fail here, no matter how bad things get, that in the final assessment God wins. And because we have that joy, even though we won’t experience it fully this side of eternity, yet because of the work of Christ we have reason to hope.

Leadership will not be easy. It is not for the faint of heart. It will be hard, it will be a struggle and a fight. People that you lead will resist your efforts, especially when you challenge the status quo. People will criticize your efforts and not accept your explanations for your choices. It will be difficult, but it is worth fighting for the good. In the excellent movie A League of Their Own, actor Tom Hanks’s character is rebuking a player for quitting when things got hard. He says to her, “It’s the hard that makes it great. If it was easy, everyone would do it.” This is a line I quote every semester to my students and every season to my athletes. Leadership is hard, and it’s the hard that makes it great. Let us take the proper approach when we do it: be confident in God’s goodness and the gifts He has given you, be humble in the way you relate to other people, and always, always, always, fight for the good.